Adcorp and Merchants, a bespoke outsource contact centre solutions company, have joined forces to roll out South Africa’s first HIV voluntary counselling and testing service within the sector.
The service is being provided by PEPFAR, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief.
Merchants currently manages the provision of 2 000 individuals to serve Merchants contact/call centres in the Western Cape and Gauteng. The centres operate round the clock, seven days a week, with individuals working an average 45 hours a week.
South African call centre agents typically come from under-privileged backgrounds, and most are matriculants with little or no tertiary education. The call centre sector provides entry level employment for young call centre agents, whose average age is 23, and often leads to other work opportunities.
The HIV counseling and testing service will complement Adcorp’s existing sick, annual and family responsibility leave and other benefits available to flexistaff employees. The intention is to promote the health of the call centre workforce and provide information relevant to those who test HIV positive for them to continue leading healthy and long lives.
“The call centre industry is growing in South Africa, providing significant employment,” says Richard Pike, CEO of Adcorp. “At present it is about the same size as in the Netherlands and more than double what it is in Ireland, which was once considered the call centre capital of the world.
“South Africa is increasingly popular in the UK as a call centre provider because of the neutral English accents of our operators and their grasp of British culture. As with all Adcorp’s staffing services, we are concerned that individuals should be at optimal health, for their own benefit, and that absenteeism due to illness should be kept to a minimum.
“HIV/Aids is a challenge in the call centre industry as much as any other, and Adcorp is glad to link up with Merchants and PEPFAR in rolling back the threat as far as is possible.”
Lynda Bomyer, director of people development at Merchants says the voluntary testing and counseling process will encourage those who test negative to stay that way – and empower those who test positive to take action.
“We want to make sure we’re sending the right messages that this is an illness that can be managed. With suitable treatment, people living with HIV can expect to lead healthy lives.
“Based on national statistics we expect that about 25% to 30% of staff to be HIV positive.”
The counselling/testing initiative is being implemented jointly with Baneth, the wellness partner to Quest and Emmanuels. The intention is to enhance Adcorp’s employee well-being programme and promote awareness of HIV/Aids. Sick leave is very high and this is another initiative to assist in understanding absenteeism and the health challenges of the workforce.
The voluntary testing and counseling, given confidentially by PEPFAR mobile units, is open to all employees at Merchants, including permanent and temporary staff. Those who test positive, but do not have medical aid, will get a referral letter to take to a clinic for CD4 testing and treatment.
The counselling/testing drive has already been rolled out at the Merchants’ call centre sites in Cape Town, with those in Gauteng to follow next month.
“We were extremely pleased with turn out at the Cape Town sites, and the ease with which staff took part in this voluntary counselling and testing initiative. PEPFAR also reported that the proportion of staff who participated was above average,” adds Bomyer.
Call centre employees are flexistaff and receive hourly rates plus sick/annual and family responsibility leave and normal statutory benefits. There is funeral and commuter insurance and most have an opportunity to earn incentives/bonuses related to performance. There is also a loyalty programme with financial benefits.